Friday, 18 May 2007

Wales Watching

This the title of an article by Diane Hofkins from The Guardian, published on 1st May 2007, presenting Wales as “a part of the UK where languages aren't in freefall and bilingualism is the norm”,,2068987,00.html

"People want to learn their language," says 11-year-old Laura. Notices around the Cardiff school are in English and Welsh, and crib sheets remind teachers to use Welsh phrases such as "bo bol bach!" (literally, it means "little people") instead of English ones such as "goodness gracious!".
Lord Dearing's report, published in March, aims to strengthen the government's commitment to the teaching of foreign languages in English primary schools by including languages in the statutory curriculum from age seven by 2010. The report comments on children's enjoyment of language learning and notes that some 70% of primaries already teach a foreign language in some form or have plans to do so. Although this surely sounds impressive, issues surrounding primary-secondary transition and who should actually teach languages in primary school are far from settled.
The article states that … “In most European countries, children start learning foreign languages at seven”. This is certainly true, but they also carry on with languages post-14 and the choice of a vocational path includes languages at an appropriate level too.
"The British Council warned earlier this year: 'monoglot English graduates face a bleak economic future, as qualified youngsters from other countries are proving to have a competitive edge over their British counterparts in global companies and organisations'."
Welsh as a first or second language became compulsory from age five with the introduction of the national curriculum in 1989, so Wales has more than 15 years' experience of systematic language teaching to national standards. The desire to develop a truly bilingual country is still at the heart of education policy. However, there is mounting evidence to point towards the fact that the “growth” of other languages, such as French and Spanish, was adversely affected by Welsh being compulsory. In some way, this can be compared to the situation of English in continental Europe-it is widespread as it is mostly compulsory, but it also has indirectly threatened the study of other languages.
“In its 2006 annual report, the Welsh schools inspectorate, Estyn, found that around two-thirds of primaries developed children's bilingual skills well. Experts agree it is important to "embed" language into daily activities, through games, songs and incidental use, such as answering the register and giving praise and simple instructions”.

"John Bald, primary languages consultant to the Hackney Learning Trust in east London, believes it is feasible to give every child a baseline in a language by 2010, even without a prescribed curriculum. This will, he says, make their acquisition of language in secondary school smoother, as the earliest stages of a language are the hardest to learn".

The set-up is more formal in Wales, “teaching is topic-based, with vocabulary and sentence structure increasing in complexity. The emphasis is on oracy, but a Welsh text is studied every half-term. For children who have English as a second language, it can be difficult at first, but because of their ear for languages, they pick up Welsh quickly.”
Differences between the English and Welsh set-up can be found at
ICT is presented as a key factor. “Support from secondary schools is also easing the introduction of primary languages in England, with increasing numbers of modern foreign language teachers doing outreach work.”

“Welsh local authorities such as Cardiff are now developing ways to improve links between primaries and secondaries in Welsh language teaching, because pupils' enthusiasm for the subject wanes when they are teenagers, hitting its lowest ebb at GCSE level - at key stage 4, only 19 out of 45 lessons visited by Estyn in 2006 gained the top two ratings”.
So is the move to teach in Primaries really going to affect students’ motivation post 14?

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